October 10, 2014 is World Mental Health Day. Here at PsychCentral, bloggers have been invited to join the discussion. The theme this year is “living with schizophrenia.” I don’t have any expertise on that, and it is not relevant to the single-at-heart topic of this blog, so I am going to go off topic for the day. I want to point to two examples of ways of understanding schizophrenia and other mental health issues – the scholarly and the personal.
One of the most renowned scholars of schizophrenia is a friend who I first met as a colleague when I was at the University of Virginia – Irv Gottesman. Google his name and you will find many of his significant scientific contributions to our understanding of schizophrenia, for which he has been awarded some of the highest honors in the field. He has also given some interviews, such as this one, in which some of his findings are discussed. Some highlights:
“In 1972, he took a Guggenheim Fellowship–funded sabbatical to do research at Denmark’s Psykologisk Institut, Kommunehospitalet, and serve as a visiting professor at the University of Copenhagen. There, Gottesman again studied sets of twins in which one had schizophrenia, this time focusing on their children. They found the children of the identical twin without schizophrenia were just as likely to develop schizophrenia as the children of the twin with schizophrenia. ‘We wrote a paper to explain our theory called unexpressed genotypes—that just because you have a gene doesn’t mean that it’s turned on,’ he explains.”
“Today, he is examining whether the grown children in families where both parents are mentally ill are more likely to develop mental illnesses than children of just one parent with a psychiatric illness. So far, he has found that they are, ‘but not as likely as you would fear,’ he says.”
“The impact of his work becomes most real when he meets parents of children with schizophrenia, who inevitably ask how their son or daughter became ill and how the latest thinking might help their child. ‘I have to tell them that I regret I can’t answer either question, but we’re working on it,’ he says.”
A different way of understanding the issue of “living with schizophrenia” is by reading personal accounts, either by people with schizophrenia or the people who are close to them. In the latter category is an essay written by author and writing coach Marcia Meier. She, too, is someone I know – she has been a prominent member of the Santa Barbara writing community. Her brother is schizophrenic, and in an op-ed she wrote for the Los Angeles Times, she shared her experiences and raised the pressing issue of who will care for schizophrenic adults when the last of their family members die or when their own financial resources or those of the people around them are exhausted. It is worth reading the entire essay (it is not very long); here are a few excerpts:
“He’s always broke. Living on Supplemental Security Income of less than $845 a month is tough in any coastal town, and nearly impossible in Santa Barbara. Once he pays his mobile home park fees and utilities, he has less than $200 a month for groceries, gasoline and insurance for his old truck. Lately, the credit card companies have been calling, demanding payment. For some reason, Visa, MasterCard, Kmart and Mobil all thought he was a good credit risk and offered him cards several years ago. When he couldn’t make the monthly payments, the card companies added on penalties and fees and started calling him. Finally, they took him to court.”
“…My brother remains resistant to treatment, fearful, broke. But he’s luckier than many with this devastating illness. Many people with schizophrenia live on the streets; he lives in a mobile home my mother bought for him after my dad died. The park managers leave threatening letters on his door regularly. ‘Get rid of the boxes in your yard.’ And ‘You can’t paint your coach bright green.’
“Not long after my brother moved in, I met with the park manager and threatened to file an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint if they didn’t lighten up.”
“…What will happen when the mobile home park next year requires all of its tenants to buy the land under their trailers? Where will he go?
“And what will happen when the last bit of my mother’s estate runs out, and my sister and I have nothing left to give him when he’s broke?
“Who is responsible? Who is responsible for them all?”